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How to Deal with the Control Freak

Mark Tyrrell
Article by Mark Tyrrell
Therapist trainer of 25 years
Co-founder of Hypnosis Downloads

5 practical ways to handle the dictator in your life

Years ago in a galaxy far, far away I worked for a woman who made Attila the Hun seem like Mahatma Gandhi; a micro-managing, over-controlling, bombastic… person.

She didn't just want to know what her staff were doing every second, but what they were thinking. She wouldn't credit people with intelligence or any initiative, and morale sank quicker than the Titanic after its fateful meeting with a certain obstructive iceberg.

Actually, I didn't take it personally. It wasn't just my every move, idea, or attitude she'd try to control – it was everyone's. But control freaks can make life miserable. Not just for others but also for themselves. Imagine feeling you have to control everything. We all have a need for control to make us feel secure, but control freaks take this need and turn it into a greed.

Because it's "my way or the highway!" it can feel like being bullied to those in the path of the control freak, but they don't necessarily intend to bully you. A control freak may not be a bad person.

Is there a control freak in your life? Maybe you're in an intimate relationship with a control freak or perhaps you work with one. Here are some ideas that helped me deal with a control freak.

1) Separate controlling behaviour from good stuff

If someone controls us much of the time, we may justify their control of us. Why would we do this? Well, perhaps they are really good to us in some ways. Maybe they work hard, perhaps they are generous, and maybe they have done you loads of great favours. But to deal with their control freakery, you need to compartmentalize it in your mind. Otherwise you run the risk of being held ransom by an emotional blackmailer.

If someone was wonderful to you most of the time but once a month stole money from you, then that's what you have to deal with – regardless of all the other times they are nice and decent.

You shouldn't be abused and controlled by them as the price you have to pay for them being great at other times. So you could tell yourself: "Okay, they are wonderful in lots of ways; they baked that cake for my birthday, they picked my kids up from school that time, but they always seem to be telling me what to do and it's that which I need to deal with."

If you don't do this, then you'll feel too guilty and beholden to them to ever deal with their controlling nature.

In this way, if you do confront them and they try to do the "after all I've done for you" stuff, you can be clear in your mind and communication that it is not that to which you are referring.

Give the control freak a chance to control their behaviour. Take them to one side and say: "Look, you are wonderful in many ways, but in this specific context I find that you keep trying to control me and boss me around. Can you possibly control this tendency, please?" Some control freaks really don't know how dictatorial they are until it's pointed out.

2) Stand your ground with the control freak by not arguing

Arguing with the control freak seldom works. Why? Because they are an expert at justifying to themselves and everyone else why they are right. They are world authorities in being "right". They have spent whole lifetimes practicing "being right". So trying to out-argue them can be nigh on impossible.

Instead, state your position but don't always feel you have to justify it to them. If you want to buy a certain pair of shoes and they feel you should get the pair they think are right for you, then don't fall into the trap of trying to come up with lots of reasons to justify your decision. Just stick to the most unarguable statement you can think of – such as "I like these shoes!"

3) Use the "broken record technique" to confound the control freak

If your control freak tells you why you should buy the shoes they think are best, use the broken record technique:

Control Freak: "You should get these other shoes because they are better value for money!"

You: "I know, but I like these shoes the best!"

Control Freak: "These other shoes are better made and will last longer!"

You: "I know, but I just like these other shoes!"

Control Freak: "These shoes are more fashionable at the moment!"

You: "I know, but I really like these other shoes!"

Control Freak: "You know what? Why don't you get your blessed shoes, then?"

In this example, the control freak had to do all the work because you just had one reason which you stuck to and it was a reason with which they couldn't really argue. They could argue that the shoes weren't fashionable or even value for money, but they couldn't disagree that you liked them the best. Give one reason and stick to it until they run out of steam.

4) Use humour to manage the control freak

All of the harsher dictatorships in history have taken a dim view of humour because laughter and flexible thinking feel like threats to prevailing dogma.

Control freaks have a need for high status and may often show a lack of humour, especially where they themselves are concerned. People who can laugh at themselves tend to see the bigger picture and therefore don't always try to inflict their limited viewpoint as the only possible viewpoint.

You can gently start to introduce humour into your dealings with the control freak. In this way, you can gradually introduce more flexibility into their approach without directly confronting them.

One woman I knew said that a particularly controlling colleague (not a manager) kept issuing 'orders' to her as if she were a slavish minion. Eventually my friend took to bowing deeply and saying: "My role in life is to hear and to obey." As you can imagine, the control freak was a little disconcerted by this, but soon began to correct his own behaviour. This woman's over-the-top reaction to his bossiness gave him a chance to observe his own actions objectively. Don't underestimate the power of humour.

A word of warning here, though: Use humour by all means, but if you really feel the need to confront them about their bossiness, then making jokes may send the message that you are not serious about how annoying you find them. So make jokes as a way of tempering their dictatorial attitude but when you mean business, don't mix your messages.

5) Be prepared to walk away – let them control other people

Ultimately, it's not your role to control a control freak. A mature human being knows what they can and cannot influence and control. Compulsively trying to control everything is what children do when they still think they are the centre of the Universe.

If they will not change then get out of their way if you possibly can. Because whilst you are being controlled too much by someone else, you will never be free to develop.

If you are happy with being controlled or really do feel it's a small price to pay for having this person in your life, then discount all of the above. But if you feel pushed, pulled, and directed and are fed up with it, then it's time to act.

As for me, I left that job and went on to better things.

Published by Mark Tyrrell - in Dealing with Difficult People